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Ethereum researcher indicted for helping North Korea

By Yana Berman

Virgil Griffith accused of assisting Pyongyang to evade sanctions by advising on blockchain and cryptocurrencies

Virgil Griffith. Image: Meng Weng Wong / Wikimedia Commons Meng Weng Wong / Wikimedia Commons

Ethereum researcher Virgil Griffith has been charged in the US for helping North Korea learn more about blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

The programmer is now formally indicted for "conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act". He was initially arrested in November for violating US sanctions laws.

The authorities claimed that Griffith illegally travelled to North Korea, where he allegedly took part in a blockchain and cryptocurrency conference in Pyongyang. The US State Department repeatedly urged him to refrain from the trip.

During the conference, he reportedly taught his audience how to use blockchain technology to evade sanctions, according to the Department of Justice.

Griffith was initially denied bail when he texted his parents about renouncing US citizenship and fleeting to North Korea. Later he was granted bail with the condition that his family secures a $1m (€900,719, £767,862) bond. He has yet to be released.

Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin initially supported the scientist, signing a petition to have him released.

North Korea is rumoured to have an extensive network of hackers that target banks and crypto exchanges and steal their funds. In August 2019 a confidential report by the UN suggested that North Korea has generated about $2 billion through sophisticated cyberattacks.

FURTHER READING: Cyber crimes, North Korea and crypto: should we be worried?

FURTHER READING: North Korea to hold second crypto event early next year

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